Inside the library: too close for comfort

Andrew Carnegie was many things: an immigrant, an industrialist and philanthropist. Among his greatest legacies was the widespread establishment and expansion of the free public library. In 47 U.S. states, in Canada and abroad, Carnegie helped create about 3,000 libraries, many of which are still in existence today.

In Multnomah County, St. Johns and North Portland libraries, with their stately red brick exteriors — both original Carnegie libraries — are remnants of that legacy. Inside St. Johns Library, the passage of a century has a different impact. 

St. Johns Library is typical of the small libraries we find across Multnomah County. One hundred years ago, the main function of those buildings was to house books. 

Today, libraries are spaces for people, programs and hands-on learning — and yes, books. Some programs, like children’s storytime, are so popular, people are regularly turned away. Other times, the library is forced to hold programs amidst the book stacks, making them inaccessible to others. 

A crowd pictured at an event at St. Johns Library
With more than 5,400 storytimes in our libraries and more than 110,000 young people participating in summer reading each year, our community’s children feel the space pinch every day. And some of our most popular new programs, like the makerspace (a science and technology space just for teenagers) at Rockwood Library, are only offered in one location because we don’t have enough space in other library buildings.

In our region and across the country, other libraries are greeting the future with open arms, with spaces for children to read, explore and play. Imagine if children at our libraries could have not only space for storytime, but perhaps a dress-up closet, structures to climb on, learning gardens, functioning kitchens or science and technology learning.

Imagine if more of our library buildings could offer space to sit and learn together, for workshops, or private rooms for a Skype job interview. 

We’re hard at work creating a vision for modern library spaces in Multnomah County. Join us as we explore ways to bring all people in Multnomah County modern and adequate library spaces that they need and deserve. Learn more at


Our Albina branch library is certainly a tiny branch, but this has never been a complaint for us. When my older son (age 14) was small, we went regularly to the library and spent time there choosing and reading books together. Since his early childhood, iPads and at least one computer, for kids’ use, have been introduced at the library. While my older son will still look at books if he goes to the library, my younger son (age 8) never experienced a library without kids sitting playing video games, and it is the only thing he has ever wanted to do there. At home he reads books just like his older brother, and we place limitations on screen time of all kinds. I would love to send my kids to the library, but since I know that my younger son would only play video games there, I don’t encourage them to spend time at the library. We have neighbors whose kids sneak out of the house to go to the library and play video games. They have requested that their kids not be allowed to use the computers to play video games, and have been told that it’s against library policy to do this, or even to enforce the time-limit rules that are posted in the kids’ computer area. I understand that the library is a place where all people can have access to media, which now obviously includes computers. However, with all of the brain research about the very real and growing problem of video game addiction, and how it is so much like substance addiction in what goes on in our brains and bodies, I can’t understand why the library can’t separate this problem from the general mission of access. Video game use, social media obsession, and screen time in general, is well known to contribute to depression, lower activity levels, and worse overall health. I’m guessing that Multnomah County Library places other kinds of limitations/filters on their computers (can children, or adults for that matter, sit in the library and look at pornographic websites?). I urge you to consider enforcing limits on kids’ computer use at libraries, and creating some kind of parental consent system for kids to use computers in libraries, or at least allowing branch employees to enforce the wishes of neighborhood parents to not have their kids playing video games at the library.

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